Pune: Ramkumar Ramanthan scored a fluent win after Yuki Bhambri eked out a straight set victory to hand India a commanding 2-0 lead against New Zealand on the opening day of the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie, in Pune on Friday.
Yuki was far from his best but still managed a 6-4 6-4 6-3 win over Finn Tearney in the first singles while Ramkumar was impressive in his 6-3 6-4 6-3 win over Jose Statham in the second singles.
Veteran Leander Paes, eyeing a world record 43 doubles wins in the Davis Cup history, will now play along side national hard court champion Vishnu Vardhan on Saturday to seal the tie for the hosts.
Both the Kiwi players — Tearney (414) and Statham (417) — are ranked outside top-400 but the pair of Michael Venus and Artem Sitak are hugely experienced doubles players and are likely to pose a strong challenge to the Indians on the weekend.
Ramkumar, who has been struggling for form of late, served extremely well on Friday and also held his nerves on long rallies and that made a huge difference to the outcome of the match.
He clinched the opening set in just half-an-hour with one service break in the fourth game that put him 3-1 up. Serving consistently well, often delivering the first ones at over 200 kmph, and hitting precise ground strokes, the tall Chennai lad dominated his vastly experienced opponent from the beginning of the opening set.
Ramkumar also served three aces, including one down the T when he was holding a set-point, and largely played confident strokes accompanied by grunts.
The break he secured was thanks to his chasing down the balls and coming up with some notable winners, the best of them being the forehand cross-court one from the left corner that beat his rival all ends up at break-point.
Holding a 3-1 lead, he was in some trouble at 30-30 in the next game after his first double-fault but fought immediately back with another ace before taking a 4-1 lead.
And then seized the moment when serving for the set at 5-3, Ramukumar served hard and true to take the set with his third ace of the match.
The second set was bitterly fought and Ramkumar had to dig deep into his big serves to come out of tricky situations at times. The Indian, in fact, had to save three break-points after trailing 0-40 on serve, after committing his second double-fault in the fourth game and saved the last with his fourth ace of the match.
The Indian youngster served his fifth ace to draw level later at 3-3 and then broke his rival's serve in the seventh for a 4-3 lead with some commendable play, winning points after long rallies in which a forehand winner to go to his second break-point stood out.
The pressure was too much for the New Zealander to handle and he promptly served his first double fault and dropped his serve to help Ramkumar go 4-3 ahead and then 5-3 by holding his serve with some difficulty.
Statham, who had a 22-14 win-loss record in the tournament, held his serve before Ramkumar served out the 10th game at 30, serving aces No 7 and 8, the last one at set-point to take a 2-0 lead in the match. The second set lasted 40 minutes.
Ramkumar's aces saved him from being broken by his rival three times before he broke Statham's serve in the fifth game with the help of some excellent service returns and errors committed by the New Zealander.
Later, he again broke the Kiwi in the ninth game when at 30-40 Statham buried his forehand into the tape of the net to drop the set and the match.
Earlier, Yuki won the first set in 47 minutes after trailing 1-3 and then won four games in a row to lead 5-3, the decisive break coming in the seventh game.
Although Tearney held serve to stay in the set, the Indian served out the 10th game at with a forehand winner to pocket the opening set.
Yuki was down 0-2 in the second set but recovered quickly to take a 2-0 lead before dominating the third set and winning it with two breaks of serve as his rival's game went to pieces on the hard court at the Shiv Chatrapati sports complex in Balewadi.
The Indian started brilliantly with a service break but then dropped serve twice, after lapsing into errors, to lag behind Tearney and then got control of his play, albeit he committed mistakes at times.
The Kiwi was more error-prone and frittered away the early advantage with some loose play. Bhambri took full advantage with some excellent, deep ground shots with his strong suit, the forehand.
Later in the set he started serving well and also hit some excellent returns of serve to put pressure on his rival.
Bhambri, with a 10-5 win-loss record in Davis Cup singles as compared to his rival's 2-0, broke his rival’s first service game of the match with a forehand winner but then played loose and fell behind 1-3.
Tearney lapsed into errors and was quickly down 15-40 on his serve in the seventh game and was broken when he hit a forehand beyond the baseline to help Bhambri take the lead at 4-3.
Bhambri served a timely first ace followed by a forehand winner deep into the rival’s court to hold serve for a 5-3 lead and then, after Tearney managed to stay alive in the set he could not stop the Indian from racing away to the opening set backed by some notable serves.
The Indian then started on the wrong foot by dropping his serve early to trail 0-2 but like in the first set fought back immediately to restore parity by breaking his rival’s serve in the third when the Kiwi buried his backhand into the net.
With order restored, Bhambri broke his rival’s serve in the fifth game when Tearney double-faulted and then held serve to take a handy 4-2 lead.
Tearney had to fight tooth and nail to hold his serve and prevent Bhambri from taking a commanding 5-2 lead after deuce was called four times.
And then when the Indian was serving for the set at 5-4 his rival frittered away two break points before Bhambri went up to set point with a service winner down the T and then clinched the set for a 2-0 lead when Tearney, undone by another net-cord return, hit his back-hand into the tape of the net.
By now the Indian seemed distinctly on top and it proved in the third set too as he was all over his rival in the third game on Tearney’s serve. The Kiwi was down 0-40 and then fought back to hold serve by winning the next five points but after Bhambri held his serve he could not prevent the Indian from going 3-2 up with a service break.
Bhambri played superbly in this game by using the drop shot from the baseline, an inside-out forehand winner and then a good approach shot to the net followed by a high volley to break serve for a 3-2 lead.
It was a crucial break as he won both his service games while Tearney held his serve in the seventh and then served to stay alive in the first rubber when trailing 3-5.
Bhambri, not to lose the advantage, put pressure on his rival’s serve immediately and had a match-point when the New Zealander mishit a forehand. And he came up with another excellent return of serve followed by a forehand down-the-line winner to clinch the match.
Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 21:44 PM